Inching towards Integration in Summerville, SC (1954 – 1970)

1970 Summerville Green Wave Basketball team

Note: Despite the academic-sounding title, I’m no historian, so the following is merely a personal remembrance of events that happened a half-century ago. Here’s a link to more legitimate article on Black history in Summerville. 

Like virtually every community in the South in the ‘50s and ‘60s, my hometown Summerville, South Carolina, was segregated. Black people could not patronize the town’s movie theater (when it was intermittently open), the bowling alley, restaurants, or laundromats. Even doctors’ waiting rooms were divided into “white” and “colored” sections, the way vets separate cats and dogs.  

Because the schools were “separate but equal,”[1] the only Black children I ever encountered socially were the children of domestics my mother and grandmother occasionally employed.[2] Racism was deeply embedded in my upbringing. Although my parents were kind to Black people – we actually once sheltered a Black boy in our house to protect him from abuse – my parents considered the African American race inferior.[3]

I remember one Saturday when our maid[4] Alice worked, she brought along her daughter Sallie who asked if she could watch Jump Time, a locally produced African American dance show modeled on American Bandstand. Jump Time wasn’t something we would have tuned into ourselves, but my brother David and I acquiesced, foregoing whatever Saturday TV fare we were accustomed to viewing at 1pm. After that visit, I made a point of watching Jump Time when I happened to be home watching TV at that hour. We’re talking the golden age of R&B, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin. And the dancers! They allowed the beat to lead the way, gracefully swaying and juking, turning what to me was a staid social convention into something primal and thrilling.

One small step.

Of course, Brown versus Board of Education had come down years before in 1954, so Summerville Schools were not in compliance with the laws of the land in 1957 when I first placed my hand over my heart and recited the Pledge of Allegiance in Mrs. Wiggins’s first grade class. At some point – I can’t remember the year – as a sort of compromise, the powers-that-were selected a few African Americans to integrate Summerville Elementary School. I suspect these students were chosen not only for their academic talent, but also for their Jackie-Robinson-like ability to withstand a certain amount of bigoted abuse. From my immature perspective, the transition seemed to go smoothly, or at least there was not that public spectacle of abuse that had occurred in Little Rock where Whites stalked Black children, screaming at them as they were escorted to school on the first day of integration. 

Little Rock Seven

After passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965, our public parks became integrated, and my first co-equal social interactions with students from the Black high school, Alston High, began at the Laurel Street basketball courts. In the late ‘60s, a few of my friends and I joined the Blacks there playing on Saturdays and Sundays and sometimes after school. These Summerville High kids included Gordon Wilson, Tim Miskel, and a few transplants from the North whose names have faded from the fraying annals of my memory.

Players would choose a three-man team to challenge whoever had won the last game, and we played by African American rules. In my subdivision, Twin Oaks, you maneuvered  the ball to back court after a defensive rebound, but here you could tip in an opponent’s missed basket and receive a point. We counted by ones, and eleven was the winning score, though you had to win by two. I don’t recall even an iota of racial tension. 

One glorious sunny afternoon Richard Blalock, Gordon Wilson, and I won three straight games.

Unfortunately, after our third triumph, Carl Whetsell, a Black Summerville High student in my English class, asked me if I knew that two players on the other teams were starters for the Alston Tigers. I passed the info along to Richard and Gordon.  The next time we faced them, we immediately choked, never to beat them again, which suggests, to flip the cliché, that what you do know can hurt you. Anyway, we became friendly with some of our Black competitors, especially with a couple of kids known as Mookie and Tubby.

Once the high school was fully integrated in the academic year 1969-1970, knowing the Laurel Street Alston crew made the transition meaningful for me, and Tubby and Mookie joined us once at a party at Adam Jacobs’s apartment Boone’s Farm from person to person. Our parents would not have been pleased.

A much bigger step.

That year, the integrated basketball team, led by Summerville High’s Sherwood Miler and former Alston High’s George Cooper, made it to the State Finals. Although we lost that game, the very worst of the bad ol’ days of segregation were behind us. Athletics helped enormously in bringing the two races together in our sports-crazed town. People like to win, and when it comes to football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, and track, fielding an all-white team is a disadvantage. 

Black athletes like Harry Blake and Eddie Felder became local heroes in those days, though that is not to say that even they escaped the racial bigotry so entrenched in society, in both the North and the South. Most people weren’t then – and aren’t now – colorblind. The original sin of slavery continues to darken our days as the events of the year 2020 have demonstrated. Nevertheless, compared to many other communities in across the country, Summerville’s integration was, thank goodness, relatively peaceful.


[1] As I typed that phrase, my tongue was lodged firmly in my cheek.

[2] The fact that we were lower middle class suggests how low wages must have been. Of course, no social security taxes were involved. 

[3] This act of mercy was not popular with our neighbors. I was mocked at the bus stop for having a [racial expletive] as a brother. 

[4] I realize the word “maid” has fallen into disfavor, but it doesn’t designate a race and actually sounds better to me than “female domestic servant” or the euphemistic “helper.”  Imagine if Molly Maids changed its name to Dolly Domestic Servants or Molly Domestic Helpers. 

Tales from Old Summerville

carolina inn

Old Carolina Inn, the first building in Summerville to have an elevator

Before the fast food franchises, before the Wal-Marts, before the sprawl, my hometown Summerville, SC, was a lovely, quiet village nestled in a pine forest 25 miles northwest of Charleston.  Settled just after the Revolutionary War and originally known as Pineland Village, the community in those days offered a haven for plantation owners seeking seasonal escape from malaria-bearing mosquitoes.

Eventually, Pineland Village became known as Summerville, and people started settling there year round. In 1847, Summerville officially became a municipality, and that very year the town council passed one of the first conservation laws in the nation, a statue forbidding cutting down trees of a certain circumference without permission.

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Town Hall back in the day

This passion for conservation and appreciation for the beauty of nature resulted in the planting of hundreds of azaleas, camellias, and gardenias throughout the town, both in its municipal parks and in the yards of the old clapboard whitewashed Victorian houses.  In the springtime, what is now called “the Old Village” or “the Historic District” has to rank as one of the most beautiful towns in the nation.  It claims as its official motto “Flowertown in the Pines.”

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St Paul’s Episcopal Church (photo credit Fleming Moore)

In 1950, the year my mother graduated from Summerville High School, the population stood at 3,312; in 1970, the year I began my senior year there, the population had barely grown to 3,839.  However, it almost doubled between 1970 and 1980 and grew a startling 247% to 22,519 from 1980 to 1990.  Since then, the population has doubled yet again, and according to a 2019 estimate, now 52,549 people call Summerville home.  When I go there nowadays, have lunch out or hit a bar, I recognize virtually no one.

However, in the old days, being a native and growing up “Flowertown” meant that everyone knew everyone else, which was a real disadvantage if you were a redhead like me.

“Did you recognize any of the boys?”

“No, but one of them was redheaded.”

“I bet it was Rusty Moore.  I’ll call his mother.”

Everyone in town knew everyone else, but outside of the town limits, there were a number of smaller unincorporated communities like Knightsville, which had its own elementary school, the Boone Hill community, Stallsville, New Hope, etc.  By junior high, children from these communities had matriculated in Summerville schools.  Unfortunately, a few of these rural children were dirt poor.  I remember shoeless White children hopping on the bus on the first day of school. We’re talking about the days of segregation when only a few handpicked African Americans had been integrated into our classes, and they were from downtown and academically talented.  Because academically, we were “tracked,” I rarely interacted with any of the disadvantaged kids from the rural areas, although I became good friends with several prosperous college prep kids from Knightsville.

However, when PE started in the 7th grade, I not only interacted with some of the disadvantaged rural kids, but I also showered with them, and since several had failed a year or two, some sported five o’clock shadows rather than peach fuzz.  PE  is where I first met Bobby Bosheen, the antagonist (and protagonist) of this piece.

My attempts to google Bobby Bosheen have turned up zilch.  I heard somewhere decades ago that he had been chained to a tree and bullwhipped and lost an eye.  Another rumor had him throwing a Hanahan boy off the Folly Pier and killing him in a tribal fight between rival high schools.  Although I doubt that either rumor is true, I don’t doubt that Bobby is no longer among the quick.  To say that he had anger issues is to say that Kanye West has ego issues.  Adjectives like volcanic and nuclear come to mind.  I would like to think that Bobby overcame his rage, that he turned out okay because deep down inside I don’t think he was a bad person.  He had this haunted look about him that suggested his childhood hadn’t taken place on Sunnybrook Farm.

For some odd reason, one Saturday, I let my friend, the late Gordon Wilson, talk me in going to Boone Hill Methodist Church to engage in unsupervised tackle football with the natives of that region.  Bobby was among the crew and had a jolly time swinging elbows, crushing ball carriers, and piling on.  Even though I enjoyed the game about as much as I would a root canal, I think my participation reaped the benefit of Bobby’s vaguely recognizing me and therefore not targeting me as an adversary.  True, he did punch me once as I was sitting in a car at the Curve-Inn Pool, but he was rip-roaring drunk and started fights that night with numerous revelers, including Kenny Reese, a popular basketball player.  The very next week I saw Bobby at Tastee Freeze, and Gordon asked him why he had punched me, and Bobby actually apologized, lamenting, “Whiskey and beer don’t mix.”

tastee freeze

The Old Tastee-Freeze

What really solidified my self-identification as a coward was Bobby’s girlfriend, a large, stringy haired bruiser with discolored teeth and the calves of a linebacker.  Unlike, Bobby, she hated me, hated me viscerally on sight. This was in ’70 or ’71, and I had started to grow my hair long and dress like Neil Young.  She used to position herself outside the entrance of the back of the main building and threaten me.  “I can’t wait to cut your ass, you red-headed bitch,” she said one day with arms crossed blocking the entrance.

red neck gal

I suspected she could have, given that she outweighed me and I hadn’t been in a real fight since the fourth grade, so I turned tail and found another entryway.  Whenever I saw her, I avoided her.  She scared the shit out of me.

The last time I heard something concrete about Bobby was in ’75 when I was bumming a ride back to college with one of my mother’s colleagues, a teacher at Newington Elementary School.  As we passed Morris Knight’s, a beer joint, the husband of the teacher, a non-Summerville native, mentioned that he had made the mistake of going in there one time to shoot pool and had been assaulted and actually beaten with pool cues.  He told me that he had pressed charges against the assailant, who was convicted, but that he couldn’t remember his name, that is was something funny sounding.

“Bobby Bosheen,” I suggested.

“Yes, that’s it!  Bobby Bosheen!”

Of course, Bobby’s anger had to come from somewhere.  I suspect at home he was no stranger to corporal punishment.  Perhaps, like Pee Wee Gaskins, he had been strung upside down naked and beaten with a two-by-four.  If he had been born to one of the families living on Carolina Avenue in a Victorian house with a spacious porch beneath moss draped live oaks among the azaleas, I suspect he and the rest of the world would have gotten along much better.

sville house

From Summerville to Folly Beach: Tales of Intoxication

Folly Beach Tales of Intoxication

Trigger warning: The following post tells the story of the first time I got drunk and mentions common topics of intoxication like lying to one’s mother, entertaining foolish possibilities, dancing on tables, and vomiting a retainer-like false tooth out of the window of a moving Oldsmobile going at least 70 mph on an Interstate Highway.

Here’s the sad story of the first time I got drunk, a tale of self-inflicted woe, a narrative featuring Brazilian exchange students and bad choices galore.

It occurred on a Saturday night in the late fall of 1969 when three Summerville High juniors and two Brazilian exchange students decided to skip the parent-sanctioned dance at the American Legion Hut and head to Folly Beach for some more sophisticated fun. My pal – I’ll call him Arthur – had connections, could get us in a Citadel Senior Party. We’d be posing as college students from Wofford in a daring act of James-Bond-like subterfuge [cue 007 guitars].

I was all for the change in venue, Folly Pier trumping American Legion Hut for sure. And who knows — it was not out of the realm of possibility — I could conceivably find myself in the arms of some jaded older almost-woman and receive backseat tutelage in the arts of love — about which I had only the slightest of cinematic clues.

It was possible. That very July we had put a man on the moon.

None of us were at the legal beer drinking age of eighteen at the time, but in Summerville in those days, that was not, as the sales clerks say, a problem. If you were tall enough to be able place a quarter and a dime on the counter of S_______’s Grocery, Mr. S________ himself would go back to the cooler and procure for you a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, place it in a brown paper sack, and presto — fun ahoy! – off you drove.

Our driver was the late Gordon Wilson, a capital fellow, and my other friend — I’ll call him Gene — was someone I’d known for so long we’d been playpen mates.

Two Brazilian exchange students, Paulo and Jacó, who were staying with Gordon, also accompanied us. As it turned out, these two would be our saviors, or at least Jacó would. Thanks to his anti-samba sobriety, his reckoning of his own safety, he volunteered to chauffeur us home (despite not having a valid South Carolina driver’s license).

Sure, he got confused about which way to go and got us stuck for a while in a sand dune, but with the help of Good Samaritans, we – make that the Samaritans — somehow extracted the Olds, and we made it home, not only alive/unparalyzed, but in my case, undetected by my parents, even though the doors were locked and I had to crawl through a window (and in my condition my locomotion would make Buster Keaton look like Rudolf Nureyev).  
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Okay, I’d be lying if I tried to turn the party into a coherent narrative.

Montage time:

Inside the Folly Pier. Bright lights. Beach music. Citadel cadets, their dates. Bottle-guzzling. Flirting. What you see when looking down from a table you’re dancing on at a Citadel Senior Party.

Slipping and falling and getting up laughing.

Now, I’m in the car. After a long time of not, the car is moving. What’s his name’s driving. We’re going fast. I’m puking out of the window.

I awake, not unlike despair-racked Satan on the burning lake of fire in Paradise Lost; only, actually, I’m in my bed in my underwear and desert boots.

No need for montage here. I remember all too clearly.   It felt like someone had jabbed and twisted a screwdriver in the base of my brain after water boarding me during my unconsciousness with bile from Jackie Gleason’s liver.
tA7UmXb

I vaguely remembered something about my tooth missing. I felt with my hand. No, it wasn’t in my mouth, nor on the dresser, nor in either pocket of my wadded up Levis. Not in the front pocket of my vomit besplattered shirt, whose smell almost prompted a heave. No, my fake tooth was long gone, runover, crushed, obliterated somewhere along the shoulder of I-26.

16-year-old-despair.

I’ve never liked lying, and I’m not good at it. But on this occasion I lied to my mother. I told her I had gotten sick at the dance (technically true) and gone out to vomit (technically true) and lost my tooth somewhere outside the American Legion Hut (patently false).*

She asked me if I had been drinking.

“No ma’am.”

The American Legion Hut in Summerville

The American Legion Hut in Summerville

She went to look for the tooth because I was in no shape to. I felt fearful and wretchedly guilty, my mother on a Sunday morning scavenging in vain among the discarded beer cans and cigarette butts in the grass of the yard of the American Legion Hut.

The next week, though, Mama got her revenge and tricked me into telling the truth.

The following Saturday, Gordon and I stayed out to 2 am, and when he pulled up to my house, I said. “I sure hope my parents are asleep.”

Like I said, Gordon was a capital fellow. He smiled and said, “Isn’t that them sitting there?”

There, there, very there, as Iago sort of says in Othello, sitting in lawn chairs on the edge of the yard, the tips of their cigarettes glowing orange dots. Gordon let me out without pulling into the driveway, and after offering a meek wave to my parents, drove off down Dogwood Circle.

No, I had not been drinking. I blew into their faces my untainted breath, whose purity did practically nothing to abate my father’s fury. He kicked me in the back of my legs as I walked up the steps. Mama told me that Gordon’s mother had told her Gordon had gotten drunk last week and so had I. I fell for it, cursed Gordon’s mother, which resulted in an “ah-ha!” Mama said she had made that up to trick me. Now I think of it, she probably was lying herself, covering for Mrs. Wilson.

Lies beget lies.

My punishment: I was told that I could no longer be me. I had to start dressing like a preppy and to change my attitude.

But, of course, that was impossible. Like Bob Dylan had sung in that record going on ten years old, I was beyond their command. I did, though, have to go to school without a false front tooth for a month. Being a redhead and freckled, I looked like a skinny Alfred E Neuman. (By the way, that’s actually my head photoshopped on the male hula-hooping dancer on the comic).

AlfredENewmanHippy

Rusty

So I did suffer for my sins and still feel guilty for sending my mother on that wild goose chase. Let’s not forget that “The evil that men boys do live after them./The good is oft interred with their bones.”

*See first comment below.